Following Bayern’s mauling of the Catalan giants the previous day, it was the turn of their respective rivals Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid to lock horns against each other in what was Round 2 in the battle between the Bundesliga and Liga BBVA. Both teams had endured disappointing defences of their domestic league titles and were looking at Champions League glory as the season draws to a close. Dortmund at Signal Iduna Park is a daunting prospect for most and football fans everywhere were anticipating an enthralling and close European knockout tie. Well they were half right. Dortmund put on a scintillating display in front of their fans and completely outplayed and literally outran Real in a game that finished with a jaw dropping final score of Dortmund 4-1 Real Madrid.
Dortmund lined up in a 4-2-3-1 as predicted. The back 4 consisted of Subotic and Hummels at the heart of the defence, flanked by Piszczek and Schmelzer on the right and left respectively in front of Weidenfeller. Gundogan and Sven Bender were given the responsibility of manning the engine room. In attack, Lewandowski led the line with Blaszczykowski on the right and Reus on the left. New Bayern man, Gotze was given the nod to start in a free role behind Lewandowski despite the unfortunate timing of the announcement of his impending transfer.
Real Madrid as well stuck to their tried and tested 4-2-3-1 formation. Keeper Diego Lopez continued to keep Casillas out of the starting line up. In defence, Ramos occupied the right back slot, the pair of Varane and Pepe played in the centre and Fabio Coentrao started at left back. Alonso and Khedira were given the onus of controlling the centre of midfield. Ozil and of course Ronaldo patrolled the flanks and Higuain was to serve as the focal point of attack. The main surprise inclusion was that of Luka Modric who started in an advanced role playing off the Argentine striker.
Signal Iduna Park was packed and as always they made their presence felt by the sheer weight of the noise produced. The Dortmund player started the game much as their faithful did i.e. full of energy and definitely making their presence felt to the visiting Real Madrid players.
They pressed high up the pitch and afforded no time to the Real players to keep the ball and control the tempo of the game. The midfield pairing of Bender and Gundogan were especially quick to close down play and were not afraid to put their foot in.
In fact the very first chance of the game was a direct result of Khedira being tackled in midfield by Bender as shown above. Dortmund’s high pressing is also shown in the above image. Reus picked up the ball, drove at the Real defence and his shot was eventually saved. This was just a precursor to events that followed.
Real, as expected from an away team in the 1st leg of a Champions League Semifinal, looked to sit deep and catch their opponents on the counter. However, owing to Dortmund’s high energy style Real found themselves pinned back and struggled to find an outlet. The first 20 minutes in particular was all Dortmund and Real looked to be rattled. Jose Mourinho was seen from the touchline signalling his players repeatedly to calm down. But they were up against one of the most enterprising attacks in European football.
In Lewandowski, Gotze, Reus and Kuba, Dortmund have a front 4 that is not only pleasing to the eye but also alarmingly effective. Gotze operating in a free role was a handful for the Dortmund defence. Alonso seemed to have been detailed to keep him quiet but the German International seemed to be popping up everywhere. Indeed, it was his pin-point cross from the left that set up Lewandowski’s first goal to set things rolling on the night. He was once again instrumental in the play leading up to the penalty awarded to Dortmund. It was his pass from the right that found Reus who was subsequently bundled over. In between these 2 key contributions, Gotze was a constant threat for Dortmund and once again proved that he is one of the most exciting prospects in European football. Another such prospect is Marco Reus. Reus has had a more than impressive debut season for the German Champions and once again sparkled. Although Lewandowski will take all the headlines and plaudits, Reus was just as impressive. The young German was crucial in Dortmund’s attacking play often driving at the Real defence taking on and beating players. His movement both on and off the ball provided penetration to the attack. Kuba also had a solid if not spectacular outing. And finally the hero of the night Lewandowski. To score 4 goals in a high profile tie like last night is the stuff of dreams. His movement off the ball, level of awareness, quick feet inside the box and clinical finishing proved just why he’s been linked with so many of Europe’s top clubs. The sharp link up play between these 4 players was a joy to behold. In addition to this, they were also willing to work hard off the ball keeping with the team ethos at Dortmund that allows them to play with such a high intensity throughout.
Real’s midfield and defence struggled to cope with Dortmund’s attack throughout the game and the scoreline is damning proof of that. As good as Dortmund’s attacking play was, the Madrid defence would not particularly enjoy reviewing their performance. They struggled to contain any of the opposition and were especially poor.
The above image is one taken in the build up to Dortmund’s and Lewandowski’s 3rd goal. The ball runs to Schmelzer on the edge of the box. Firstly the defender should be a lot closer to Schmelzer to even try and attempt to block the cross. Meanwhile the marking near the penalty spot leaves a lot to be desired. Lewandowski who already has a brace to his name is not picked up at all by the 3 Real defenders. Yes, they closed him down quickly but by then Lewandowski had already put the ball into the roof of the net.
Real of course are a team that are not exactly handicapped when it comes to attacking firepower of their own. Any team boasting of the likes of Ronaldo, Ozil, Higuain and Modric are bound to carve out a fair number of chances in any game right? Apparently not. Modric failed to link up play between the midfield and attack and was for most part of the match ineffective. Higuain meanwhile was a stark contrast to the Lewandowski. To be fair to him, he was often isolated up front and he did well to fully capitalize on Hummels’ mistake to unselfishly set up Ronaldo for Real’s solitary goal just before half time. Real’s best spell in the game in the latter stages of the second half. After 30′ minutes, the game seemed to settle down and Real did enjoy more possession. Their attack though lacked any cutting edge. The little threat that they did pose came from the left wing. Ronaldo often linked up with compatriot Coentrao to push Dortmund back. Ronaldo also used his experience to draw a number of fouls in the same period which were wasted by Alonso’s uncharacteristically poor delivery.
Although Ronaldo did get himself on the score sheet, he had to be satisfied with a supporting role in what was the Dortmund show. Shackling Ronaldo, whatever the circumstance, is a feat easier said than done but full credit to Dortmund for achieving it. Rather than man marking Ronaldo, the Dortmund defenders ensured that they limited the space for him and employed what can be loosely described as a variant of zonal marking. This tactic worked like a charm and Ronaldo rarely found himself isolated against Pisczek and thus his impact was limited.
Real Madrid’s famous counter attacking game was rendered toothless by 2 main factors. One was the performances of Sven Bender and Ilkay Gundogan.
The latter in particular had a majestic game. He was crucial in defence for the German champions with his high pressing and tackling. As mentioned above, he along with his partner in crime Bender, tackled the ball high up the pitch thus ensuring that the defence wasn’t exposed to the counter attacking threat posed by Real Madrid. Gundogan also showed that he has plenty more in his locker than just intercepting and tackling the ball. He completed 4 successful tackles, 3 interceptions and 49/56 passes not to mention a great run and shot which forced a good save from Lopez in the 61′.
The other reason was their speed of transition off the ball. While quick counter attacking forward play is often seen in a number of teams, what impressed me the most was Dortmund’s speed of recovery. The speed with which they got behind the ball was exemplary and indeed they seemed to even create the illusion of a man advantage, such was the energy shown by team.
Looking at the final score, people may well be dismayed by the fact that what looked like a close Champions League tie could very well be over after such a lopsided 1st leg. But any neutral fan can’t help but admire what Dortmund have achieved in Europe this season. They have seemingly adopted an approach which not only keeps them solid defensively but also ensures they possess a sizable attacking threat. Their high energy game is a sight to behold and is close to what I would term ‘organized chaos’. Real meanwhile would be dejected by their performanc. While Mourinho would insist that they are still in with a chance, it would require a special night at the Bernabeu for this tie to be turned around. With Real’s need for goals and Dortmund’s counter attacking pedigree, you certainly wouldn’t want to put any money on Madrid reaching Wembley.